Friday, June 18, 2004 | 11:23 a.m.
Former Harlem Globetrotters player Clyde "the Glide" Austin was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison Thursday for stealing $16 million from people around the nation.
Austin, a Las Vegas resident for the past five years, is an ordained minister who as recently as last spring was the pastor at Heaven's Light, a nondenominational church in Henderson.
Federal prosecutors in a Richmond, Va., court said Thursday the former Globetrotter operated a pyramid scheme in which he told investors their money would yield a 50 percent or more annual return. Austin spoke at churches and seminars around the country and convinced people to sink money into bonds, overseas trading, real estate and the marketing of herbs, weight-loss aids and other products.
Instead, early investors were paid with the money of later investors.
The minister apologized, saying greed "took all over the good that was intended."
The court ordered the 46-year-old Austin to repay the victims.
He pleaded guilty in December to fraud and money laundering and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against three other defendants, none of whom were from Nevada.
Brian D. Shapiro, a Las Vegas attorney who represented two Virginia fraud victims trying to recoup about $500,000, said he found Thursday's decision "shocking." Austin had declared bankruptcy to avoid paying his debts, Shapiro said.
"I didn't think it was going to happen, especially with him cooperating," Shapiro said.
The local attorney recalled this morning how Austin wore a $15,000 gold Rolex watch in Las Vegas bankruptcy court proceedings. "He denied everything," he said.
Shapiro won the right for his clients to go after Austin's assets, but the minister never repaid a cent.
Austin was arrested in the Las Vegas area last spring.
The Associated Press
contributed to this story.